interview

Priscilla Adade's lockdown tips: celebrating strong black women

© Ivan Put
| Priscilla Adade.

It is difficult to imagine a Brussels resident more cosmopolitan than Priscilla Adade. The actress sat down with us to share her cultural tips for the new lockdown, focussing on strong black women in literature, theatre, television, podcasting and ... yoga.

Actress Priscilla Adade is perfectly bilingual and feels at home in various places around the world. She attended the European school in Ukkel/Uccle, moved to Brighton to study Law and American studies, lived in America, and finally moved to Paris and London for drama courses at both Cours Florent and LAMDA. She is also the founder of PRYSM, a social production house currently crowdfunding to teach podcasting to survivors of rape of war in the Kivu regions. Since 2015, the award-winning actress has been back in Brussels, where in 2021 we hope to see her perform in Les enivrés at Flagey, Fire Will Become Ashes, But Not Now at KVS, and Birthday at Théâtre de Poche.

She starts her lockdown list with a book by the American writer Maya Angelou (1928-2014). “Angelou is not very well known here, although her seven volume autobiography, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, shows how many lives she lived. She was sent away from home, was raped, went mute for many years, then became a pimp and a prostitute to help her boyfriend. As a singer in Porgy and Bess she toured Europe, got involved in the Civil Rights movement, became a writer and a professor, hung out with James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and also went back to Africa… The inspiration black women like her give me is the leitmotif in all my recommendations.”

With the theatres closed, Adade urges us to see a play that just opened online. “A play called Emilia, which I saw in London's West End a year and half ago. It tells the story of Emilia Bassano, who was the first published poetess in Britain, and who also happened to be the “Dark Lady” in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Too few people know about her and that is why Michelle Terry, artistic director of The Globe, commissioned Morgan Lloyd Malcolm to write this play that is so amazing that I have actually bought the rights to translate and put it on in French, because I think everybody should see it. Bassano had darker skin because she was from the south of Italy. She lived at the English court, had to get married, struggled to survive financially, met Shakespeare, and also wrote herself in a time in which it was virtually impossible to get published as a woman. It is crazy to see that her life in the 16th-17th century is similar in many ways to that of a poetess nowadays. That she is only seen as Shakespeare's muse and not as the first poetess published in England, shows how the “invisibilization” of women's history has been going on for such a long time that it is probably going to take us just as long to unbury all the stories like this one.”

HOMEGROWN
Time for a TV series, or even two! “The first one is She's Gotta Have It. Spike Lee did the movie in 1986, but he also made the TV series in 2017: two seasons about this great artist Nola Darling – love that name! – who lives in Brooklyn, is very open and undertaking, sexually curious, loves life, and therefore gets herself into trouble sometimes.”

The second one is the recent BBC-production I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel. “About consent and all the different kinds of sexual abuse that women and some men can go through. From lack of consent to the more consensual vision of what a rape is. It is not as light-hearted as everything else I have suggested so far, but the way it is written and told, the way that Coel navigates through the complexity of this topic is just incredible. It is so rich that it feels as though it talks about everything in life.”

On the other hand, the podcast Vocal About It by Sarah Diedro Jordao and Sara Hassan is completely homegrown. “They are two black women from France and Austria respectively, who live in Brussels and used to work for the European institutions before changing course completely. They talk about systemic racism and give tips to white people about how they can become allies. They are funny but talk frankly, in English, and since it is Brussels-based they can use local examples of what they have lived through in the European institutions, or in our city that is meant to be cosmopolitan and inclusive, but obviously still suffers from everything that all cities suffer from.”

Music-wise Adade suggests Beyoncé's movie Homecoming, which is also available on Netflix. “Such a good vibe film! It shows a concert at Coachella, but what makes it really inspiring, apart from the amazing performances, is how she directed it. Honouring and reproducing the approach of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, forming a strong team of different black people that are not really that famous or didn't get that many opportunities, respecting each person's individuality and characteristics.”

Adade's final tip is not related to the strong black lead, but is about meditation. “I have been doing a lot of Kundalini yoga lately, and in March the French teacher Lili Barbery started doing daily free Kundalini yoga sessions on Instagram, and now she has started again during this lockdown. Kundalini really works, changes your energy and the energy around you very quickly, with just a few moves and singing mantras at the end. It is also beautiful to see a community of sometimes 5,000 people together in front of our screens following the lessons. Thank God this whole corona thing is happening in an era in which we are able to use technology this way.”

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